Lusting after Great Books (Part 2)

Dozens of islanders enjoyed “Book Lust” author Nancy Pearl last month at the Community Building, sponsored by the Sandy Walker Fund of the Shaw Library. In addition to her book recommendations, Nancy also talked about her background, growing up as a voracious reader because her home wasn’t a safe place, and finding shelter and solace in her local library after school and on weekends. “I’d bike to the library at 9 and bike home at 5 on Saturdays. There was a librarian there who took an unhappy kid and gave her the world, different ways of life that I didn’t know about. I knew at 10 that I wanted to be a librarian.”

For those of us who are determined to finish a book no matter how little it works for us, and feel guilty when we don’t: “I stop when the book gets tiresome or I really get annoyed. All it means is that in that moment, this book is not for you. Life’s too short to read something that’s not for you … unless it’s for your book club. If it’s a who-done-it and you have to know the answer, turn to the last page. The best thing about (stopping) is that no one needs to ever know. There isn’t time to waste on a book you are not enjoying.” But how many pages should we wait to decide? “For those 51 and older, subtract you age from age 100 and the result is the number of pages that you should read before guiltlessly give up the book. When you turn 100, you can judge a book by the cover!”

But what if you’re reading a critically acclaimed book and you can’t stand it? “Here’s the thing: it’s just not a book for you. I believe that the definition of a good book is a book you like. Are these the greatest books of 2014? Who knows? I didn’t finish reading Moby Dick. I read them and I stand behind them.” Nancy said she takes guilty pleasure in rereading a book, although she argued that there is no such thing as rereading. “We read with all of our experiences up to that moment. You have had more experiences after reading the book the first time. I’m not the same person I was when I read a book for the first time.

In the previous post on Nancy Pearl, several of her recommendations and comments were shared. Here are other recommendations made during that visit:


The City and the CityThe City and the City
(China Mieville). Mieville is a “brilliant thinker, a Marxist economist who in her spare time has written a speculative novel,” Nancy said. “She’s an example of ferociously creative minds who are writing fiction. (City) is a metaphor for today’s issues: two cities co-existing in space … where it’s a crime to go back and forth between cities.” People can vaguely see the other world but tune out whatever doesn’t affect their lives.
The Soul of Vikto Tronko
The Soul of Vikto Tronko
(David Quammen). This is not your average Cold War spy novel. “It’s dense, like John Le Carre … it’s not a Tom Clancy spy novel. It will take your attention,” Nancy said, with all of the detail surrounding for KGB agents, the CIA, defectors, murder and disinformation.

Dear Committee MembersDear Committee Members (Julie Schumacher). “I love academic fiction,” Nancy said. It’s an epistolary novel that focuses on a year’s worth of recommendation letters the professor of creative writing has written for below-average students and peers. “They’re hysterical It’s the perfect book on a dim and grey day and you’re in the dump.”
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (David Shafer). “A dastardly cabal is trying to privatize information. It has three great characters and is fully developed. You get invested.”

Poets in Their YouthPoets in Their Youth (Eileen Simpson). “If you love poetry, this kind of book will make you want to read the poems she talks about.” Nancy said. The republished memoir is written by John Berryman’s former wife, and concentrates on the early part of their marriage.

Bad Debts, The Broken Shore, Shooting Star (Peter Temple). The Australian writer “writes for people with a social conscience who love crime novels,” Nancy said. She suggested reading the award-winning “The Broken Shore” first. “I read it at least three times and loved it.”

Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War (Helen Thorpe). Three young women join the Indiana National Guard after 9-11. Thorpe explores their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it affected them. Nancy said. “Those three women remain in my head. I wonder what life is like for them now.”

Murder at the Brightwell (Ashley Weaver). “This is a light, fluffy mystery from an author who takes great pleasure in detailing the heroine’s clothing,” Nancy said. “If you love Jane Austen or have a nascent Jane Austen fan in your life, I recommend this book. It’s good for teen-agers but adults will like it, too.” The epistolary novel features two cousins and how they are altered by a little magic.

Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel). Literary fiction “is really a challenging genre these days,” Nancy said. Futurist topics, in the hands of a literary novelist such as Mandel, are crossing over into literary fiction. The story line is familiar: life after 99% of humanity has been wiped out by a virus. What’s unusual is Mandel’s ability to use the characters of a nomadic group of actors and musicians decades after the collapse to show a more hopeful world than other post-Apocalypse novels offer.

— Contributed by Sharon Wootton